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Researchers: Gifts Have Their Price

April 1, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ Nearly half the researchers who answered a survey said they had received gifts from companies, and most of the scientists said they believed their donors expect something in return.

The survey published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association also found two-thirds of the researchers believed the gifts were important to their work.

Most frequently, the gifts were biomaterials such as cell lines or DNA snippets, laboratory equipment, trips or money.

Researchers believed their benefactors wanted a variety of things in return, including acknowledgment in publications, review of papers before publication and the rights to commercial discoveries stemming from use of the gifts. Most universities have rules against giving away such intellectual property.

The study did not ask if the researchers complied with such requests.

But gifts from private companies, unlike research grants, are typically unregulated by universities.

``A company can give a gift of almost any amount of money or any type of thing to a faculty member and it goes largely unobserved,″ said Dr. David Blumenthal, associate professor of health care policy at Harvard University Medical School and one of the study’s authors.

Dr. Sydney Wolfe of Public Citizen called the findings ``extremely worrisome.″

``It tells me that there is almost no sphere of our health care research and delivery system that is immune from the infecting properties of money.″

Researchers from Harvard and the University of Minnesota surveyed 3,394 faculty members at the 50 universities that received the most funding from the National Institutes of Health in 1993. They got responses from 2,167.

The survey found 43 percent had received a gift other than a contract or grant in the last three years.

Of those, 66 percent reported the gift was important to their research. Sixty-three percent said the donors expected acknowledgment in publications; 32 percent said the donor wanted prepublication review of any articles written about the research; and 19 percent reported the donor wanted the rights to patent any commercial discoveries from the research.

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